A Summer Like No Other from Sarah-Jane Mason

Sarah-Jane Mason

As a freelance Creative Practitioner & Educator my work has been quite different since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially all of my projects were cancelled and the education and participatory elements of my creative practice were put on ice. However, as it became clear that the pandemic was not going to be over in a few weeks, the arts sector rapidly prepared a response aimed at filling the gap left in people’s access to the arts and culture. I am proud to have been a part of this response, remaining active throughout the lockdown restrictions with both online and physical projects. 

One annual project, Lacuna Festivals - a joint project with land artist Simon Turner, totally transformed in response to the pandemic. In previous years we have delivered a contemporary, international art festival annually that includes seminars and lectures, exhibitions, live music and performances and artist talks – so lots of physical, face to face activities which this year would have been totally impossible to recreate. However, we decided that we didn’t want to cancel the festival as surely the world needed the light of the arts now more than ever? 

And so we delivered ‘The Lost Festivals’ 100% digitally within a three month turnaround from our initial decision. We built virtual exhibition spaces to show work from 250 artists, organised 45 online events from around the world, hosted ten online challenges for artists to participate in and created a digital zine from work submitted for these challenges. The festivals created a sense of comradery between the artists; Yes times were adverse but we were all in it together and we could do things to keep the arts alive for us all. It was a hugely validating experience and one that, although it was incredibly hard work, I would choose to do again and again. You can find out more about the festivals here.

In addition to the festivals I also worked on a number of commissioned projects with other organisations throughout the first wave of the pandemic. The first such project was Creative Camps by Fusion, an online creative experience for families. These camps enabled families to work on a creative prompt over a week long period with support via live Zoom sessions and in a dedicated Facebook group from a small team of professional artists. The camps were so popular that the October editions had to be doubled up to meet demand! Visit the Fusion website to find out more and to watch out for future sessions as and when they become available. 

The second commissioned project was Bags of Creativity, a project where local artists devised creative activities that were included in a bag of resources. The bags were designed to make sure all children and young people could stay creative at home by providing everything they needed to do so in one place. Over 9000 bags were delivered to families across Yorkshire in this large-scale initiative co-ordinated by IVE with over 2000 of them in Sheffield directed by Create Sheffield. You can find out more about this and access online versions of the resources by following this link.

The final commissioned project I will talk about here was The Gift, a Creative Scene project that aimed to gift creativity to those who had to remain at home during the lockdown. All of the creative activities that I developed drew inspiration from the local area from its industrial heritage fabricating mungo and shoddy to Heckmondwike illuminations. The activities were printed onto activity sheets and booklets and packed up with eight different resource packs that were distributed via partner organisations to around 500 families, elder and isolated adults. These activities are also available online and can be found here

As the pandemic continues to sweep the globe and cause huge changes to our everyday lives I am excited to keep working in the arts, to support those that need it the most during this uncertain time. My next news piece will not be about looking backwards reflecting on projects that have been but will be on looking forwards as I continue to work creatively with others no matter what life throws at me. Let’s do this! #creativityforall

Written by Sarah-Jane Mason